Farmers should be concerned about cross-pollination and loss of markets

April 17, 2017


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Contamination of non-genetically modified (GM) alfalfa crops in Ontario is highly likely now that GM alfalfa seed will be more widely available for sale in 2017, and this greatly concerns Grey County members of the National Farmers Union-Ontario (NFU-O).

All farmers, conventional and organic, should be concerned about the cross-pollination of GM alfalfa with non-GM or natural alfalfa, the NFU says, because the economic consequences could be severe.

The seed in question is being sold under the name HARV-XTRA and is a product of Monsanto and Forage Genetics International.

So far, contamination concerns related to GM alfalfa have been addressed by the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) which has developed a set of best management practices for farmers. If farmers follow the measures, the CSTA claims, the harmless “co-existence” of GM and non-GM alfalfa will be ensured and contamination of natural alfalfa will be prevented.

Not so, the NFU says. Even if farmers do their utmost to follow the CSTA’s guidelines, cross-pollination of GM alfalfa with natural alfalfa is certain, the NFU believes.

"Co-existence of GM alfalfa, conventional alfalfa and organic alfalfa is a non-starter. It is impossible in our growing environment,” says Brenda Hsueh, a member of the NFU-O Grey County Local Board.

"Alfalfa stays in the field for more than a year, with multiple harvests, and is pollinated by bees which can travel many kilometres, making crop isolation impossible," adds Hsueh. "Our moisture levels from rain and humidity are uncontrollable, so harvest windows can’t be guaranteed. So how is the isolation of GM alfalfa crops from non-GM alfalfa crops even possible?"

"Practices such as regular mowing of ditches and buffer zones, which are promoted by the CSTA as effective means of preventing cross-pollination, simply do not work," says Dr. René Van Acker, Dean, Ontario Agricultural College, University of Guelph. "(GM alfalfa) population extinction is only possible with complete roadside mowing and strict and long term, such as seven plus years, of absolute prevention of seed addition," Van Acker says.

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Contaminated alfalfa has potential severe economic consequences for Canadian alfalfa growers. As forage, it is a valuable export product as hay and seed. Regions and countries including Europe and China are closed to imports of alfalfa hay and seed where contamination is a concern.

Also, GM traits are absolutely not allowed in any organic system. The inevitable contamination of all alfalfa with GM traits would handicap growing organic dairy and meat industries, as well as block hay and alfalfa seed products from being sold into international markets.

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Monday, April 17, 2017